Sunday, September 26, 2004

In the event that some may be interested

in just which WWII ships were named in honor of African Americans of note. It may be important to tell you that the information comes from a paper by Steve Gilford, printed in a publication called "On This Day in KP History." I'm assuming that KP means Kaiser Permanente:

"...One reason "it was different here" was that there was a growing understanding in Washington and among more progressive employers such as Henry Kaiser, that the contributions of African Americans had become an important part of the war effort. Such realizations led to a government decision to provide a series of Liberty Ships named after prominent black Americans. Seventeen such ships were authorized. Contracts seem to have been carefully spread over the country in order to maximize their impact. The African Americans honored were:

Robert S. Abbott -- Robert J. Banks -- John Merrick -- George Washington Carver -- William Cox -- John H. Murphy -- Frederick Douglass -- Paul Laurence Dunbar -- Edward A. Savoy -- John Hope -- James Weldon Johnson -- Harriet Tubman -- Robert L. Vann -- James K. Walker -- Booker T. Washington -- Bert Williams -- George A. Lawson."

Unfortunately, many are unknown figures of history to me, so I suspect that the list was arrived at without a lot of black input. Either than, or at the time I was pretty far out of the loop.

I know that Robert S. Abbott was the publisher of the Chicago Defender, and George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar and James Weldon Johnson and Booker T. Washington were well known to me, but the rest I must admit ignorance of. Except for the great comedian, Bert Williams, that is. I'm also aware that it was Robert Abbott who was instrumental in bringing down controversial black historical figure, Marcus Garvey. So many stories, so little time ... .

If anyone reading this can shed some light on the rest of these names I would consider it a gift. I believe that John Hope was a well known educator.

Were I making such a list at the time it surely would have included Crispus Attucks; black soldier who died in battle at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and Sojourner Truth. The rest of those I'd honor came into prominence during a later point in history.

I'm remembering now that there were some strong Marcus Garvey followers among my relatives, and sermons a-plenty on the Garvey Plan to return us all to Africa! Papa George (my grandfather) Allen and his every-Saturday-night-penny-ante partner, (great uncle) Daddy Joe Warnie were rabid on the subject, though they tended to be more mouth than action and never did get around to the recruitment office, as I recall. They'd have had to miss the black barnstormers next baseball season, and that'd nevah do! (One shudders to think of what might have happened to us all had Garvey recruited Satchel Paige!)

Thoughts of those two old rascals and their passion for Garvey brings to mind how Daddy Joe -- on one of his great days of black passion -- got out all of his two young daughter's (Ruth and Josie) blond and blue-eyed dolls and painted them dark brown! The girls were outraged! But were those tattered dolls to be re-discovered today in some old trunk -- they'd be valuable "artifacts" -- silent testimony to the fact that -- 20 years before the emergence of Malcolm X, there was Marcus Garvey, and that much was borrowed from his ill-fated movement toward racial pride, self-determination, and full racial equality. African-Americans had been lurching forward and falling back for decades before "Black is Beautiful" was fully embraced by young blacks, this writer among them.

Over the past year, under a grant awarded by the Ford Motor Company, a national campaign has brought a steady stream of artifacts and stories to the Park reception center -- there to be archived and stored for the purposes of future study. The stories have come from over 10,000 Rosies who worked in many capacities in many places. There are oral histories and letters, photographs and union cards, all being gathered to tell the story of the Home Front war effort. But theirs was a very different reality from the one we lived.

The National Park Service was created by our government to tell of the country's story through its structures -- and through the memories of its people. Nowhere in the nation was there a more fitting place through which to tell the story of WWII. But most of the structures that would have told our stories are no longer standing. We're far more dependent upon our story-telling and photo-albums; but those things we can provide for the sake of history.

*And, because in the process of doing the work of creating a defense system that saved the world from Fascism, there was a powerful subplot -- one that may have led to the eventual rise of the Civil Rights Movement two decades later. That, too, may well have started here in Richmond, moved out to the campus in Berkeley, then to the nation. We African Americans hold the key to the telling of those stories, and the Centennial presents the opportunity to gather and archive our "artifacts" and oral histories -- stories that will provide the links between generations that we may have neglected for far too long, and that just might shorten the distance between our children, our grandchildren, and ourselves, and provide them with a bridge to their own history.

Let the church say "Amen"!

(Note: *In writing this, I'm greatly influenced by the fact that I've been asked to do a 3-part series for a local newspaper having to do with the upcoming Centennial year (due Monday morning). The thought occurred to me that I'd already written it -- here, as a blog -- and that with a little editing... . If it sounds as if I'm writing to a selected audience of readers, that seems to have evolved in my attempt to do that editing. If I could just stop this deluge of memories...)

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